Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Morning News: Arkansas Comes Back, Ohio St Escapes Minnesota, Villanova Swamps St. John's, And More

D'Angelo Russell had 25 points in the first half against Minnesota
Arkansas Comes Back At Georgia The stereotype of Mike Anderson teams is that they struggle on the road, and so it's quite impressive for them to come back to knock off a Georgia team that could earn an at-large bid. But they came back not by forcing turnovers, but by scoring efficiently. They had a 65.4 eFG% in the second half. Bobby Portis led the way with 21 points on 8-for-15 shooting.

This Arkansas team has proven to be strong offensively this season. Pomeroy actually ranks them the tenth best offense in the nation. The question is whether it will hold up as their schedule gets tougher, because their non-conference slate was pretty soft. This is a great start to their SEC season, but it's just one game.

Georgia is a team that the computers love, but it's come against a soft schedule, and so they haven't really converted that good efficiency into quality wins. They beat Seton Hall and Colorado, though both teams are far from locks to end up in the RPI Top 50, and they have a dicey loss against Georgia Tech. They probably need to get to 11-7 in SEC play or better to have a good chance at an at-large bid, so a home loss is a bad way to start things off. Particularly with a pair of relatively tough road games (at LSU and Vanderbilt) up next.

Ohio State Escapes Minnesota D'Angelo Russell has looked so great, but also so inconsistent, so far in his freshman year at Ohio State. In the first half here he put on a show, going 5-for-5 behind the arc and putting up 25 points. Yet he was shut out in the second half, including botching the final possession of regulation with a chance to win it. In overtime, both teams had a chance, but in the end it was Marc Loving who hit a jumper to put the Buckeyes ahead, and then Shannon Scott who made the defensive play to preserve the lead. You can watch that final sequence below:
While D'Angelo Russell gets the hype, it's been Shannon Scott who has been a rock for Ohio State. He's not just the team's best defender, but also the team's primary playmaker. He nearly went for a triple-double here, pouring in 9 points, 10 assists and 7 rebounds. The Buckeyes are definitely a team in that mix to be the second best team in the Big Ten.

Minnesota is, for seemingly the 37th consecutive season, a bubble team. And that makes an overtime home loss against a team like Ohio State such a crushing missed opportunity. They're now 0-3 in Big Ten play with a difficult road game at Michigan up next. They could potentially earn an at-large bid at 9-9 in Big Ten play, but that's going to get difficult if they fall to 0-4.

Villanova Swamps St. John's The Johnnies hung in this game for a while, and actually had a lead early in the second half, but a 22-7 run blew this game open and the Wildcats eventually cruised to a comfortable win. Villanova had an 81.0 eFG% in the second half. Part of that comes down to Chris Obekpa missing chunks of this game with foul trouble and with an injury, though Obekpa did eventually play 25 minutes in this game and wasn't the only reason St. John's struggled defensively. But Villanova has scored more than 1.1 PPP in 8 of their 15 games this season - their offense has been humming.

St. John's is now 0-3 in Big East play, and will be underdogs in their next game (at Providence). Not a single one of the losses is a "bad" loss, but the Johnnies have to get to at least 9-9 in Big East play to earn an at-large bid. They will get a shot in a few weeks against Duke in Madison Square Garden, though.

Villanova is now 2-1 in Big East play and they remain the heavy favorite to win the conference. Their first really big test for the conference crown will come up on January 19th, when they head to Georgetown.

Iowa State Holds Off Oklahoma State Oklahoma State had plenty of chances to steal this one. Iowa State blocked not just one but two three-pointers in the closing seconds that would have given the Cowboys the win if they'd gone in. Georges Niang had the block that clinched the win. And coming off the loss to South Carolina, it's a slightly disconcerting performance for the Cyclones, but in the end it's hard to be too down about a win over a likely at-large team. The real test for Iowa State is coming up next, when they head on the road to face West Virginia and Baylor. Loses in both of those two games is a real possibility.
The two big blocks that sealed Iowa State's win
Oklahoma State is yet another team that the computers love but that hasn't done it against a quality opponent. They currently sit 23rd in Pomeroy and 36th in the Sagarin PREDICTOR, but they don't have a single win over a likely RPI Top 50 opponent. They don't have any bad losses either and even a 9-9 record in Big 12 play will put them in decent shape heading into the Big 12 tournament, but it's not going to be easy to finish 9-9 in a league as deep as the Big 12. A road win over Iowa State would have been a fantastic win, but they have to immediately turn to an important home game against Texas on Saturday. A win there would give them that big scalp they've lacked all season.

Rayvonte Rice Injured The timetable for Rayvonte Rice isn't certain, but it looks like he'll be out for somewhere between three and six weeks. And considering how much he dominates the Illini offense, that's an absolutely crushing blow. A full strength Illinois team is probably a Tournament-quality team, but with very little room to spare. But they will not get a pass from the Selection Committee for the games they play without Rice. Malcolm Hill will have to take the lead in trying to keep the Illini afloat in the bubble race until Rice can get back.

Providence Wins At Butler Kris Dunn continues to be a turnover machine (he had 7 turnovers here), but he is so explosive and so good aside from those turnovers that it's hard to really know what to make of him. He had 25 points and 6 assists here, and had the big basket that put Providence up by three with just over 30 seconds to go. Kellen Dunham then missed a jump shot on the other end of the court and Roosevelt Jones rebounded it with a foot out-of-bounds. Dunn then hit the two free throws to really put this one away.

Providence is now 2-1 in Big East play with a pair of key home games up next against Georgetown and St. John's. They'll have a shot at an at-large bid at 9-9 in Big East play, but have to get to 10-8 to feel good about their chances. Butler is in a similar situation, but they're now just 1-2 in Big East play and really need to take care of business at home against Xavier on Saturday. After that they'll be underdogs on the road against Seton Hall and Georgetown, and they can't risk falling to 1-5 in conference play.

Charlotte's Alan Major Takes Indefinite Leave Alan Major had two eye surgeries and a heart procedure in the offseason, and it appears that he is again struggling with his health. His Charlotte team has played well, and looks to be in the thick of a wide open Conference USA title race, but they will have to fight those battles for the foreseeable future with Ryan Odom at the helm.

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